San Diego Returns To California's Red Tier Next Week, Allowing Limited Indoor Operations To Resume At Restaurants, Movie Theaters, Museums, Gyms, Churches & More

March 12, 2021

For the first time since last fall, San Diego County will enter California's red tier of COVID-19 restrictions next week. San Diego will be once again allowed to have indoor dining resume at reduced capacity, as well as limited indoor operations at gyms, movie theaters, museums, places of worship, and more.

San Diego County has been in California's most-stringent purple tier of COVID-19 restrictions since November 14, 2020. Following the state reaching its goal of administering 2 million doses of the vaccine to California's hardest-hit communities, San Diego and 12 other counties are expected to move from California's most-restrictive purple tier into red on Tuesday, March 16, a year to the day from when San Diego County first announced sweeping stay-at-home orders.  Based on newly modified coronavirus numbers thresholds, 13 counties will also move to the red tier on Monday, March 15, including Amador, Colusa, Contra Costa, Los Angeles, Mendocino, Mono, Orange, Placer, San Benito, San Bernardino, Siskiyou, Sonoma and Tuolumne. San Diego, Kings, Sacramento, Lake, Monterey, Riverside, San Joaquin, Santa Barbara, Sutter, Tehama, Tulare, Ventura and Yuba will move from purple to red starting on Wednesday. The change will take effect on Wednesday, March 17, resulting in the following changes:
  • Restaurants (and bars, breweries and wineries that serve food) can open indoors at 25% capacity or 100 people, whichever is fewer;
  • Retail can open indoors at 50% capacity;
  • Malls can open indoors at 50% capacity and limited food courts;
  • Museums, zoos and aquariums can open indoors at 25% capacity;
  • Places of worship can open indoors at 25% capacity or 100 people, whichever is fewer;
  • Movie theaters can open indoors at 25% capacity or 100 people, whichever is fewer;
  • Hotels can open with modifications, plus fitness centers can open at 10% capacity;
  • Gyms can open indoors at 10% capacity;
  • Family entertainment centers can open outdoor only, like mini golf, batting cages and go-kart racing;
  • Cardrooms can open outdoor only;
  • Non-essential offices can remote work only;
  • Schools can reopen for in-person instruction after two weeks out of the purple tier;
  • Professional sports can have live audiences at 20% capacity with restrictions starting April 1;
  • Theme parks can reopen with 15% capacity and restrictions starting April 1.
Recently, California officials announced modifications to the state's reopening plan that would allow outdoor venues and theme parks to reopen with safety modifications and limited capacity as early as April 1. Outdoor sports venues in counties in the red tier, like San Diego's Petco Park, are permitted to host fans at live games at 20% capacity starting April 1. Concessions will be required to be primarily in-seat sales. The capacity limit will rise to 33% for counties in the orange tier and 67% for those in the yellow. 

Live performances will also be allowed to resume with reduced attendance at outdoor venues. Amusement parks, like Belmont Park, Legoland, and SeaWorld, will also be allowed to reopen at 15% capacity with certain restrictions on ride capacity. For amusement parks, the attendance cap rises to 25% once a county is moved to the orange tier and 35% upon reaching the most lenient yellow tier. Attendance at theme parks, sporting events and concerts will be limited to California residents, and there will be additional prohibitions on indoor dining and limits on indoor rides at amusement parks.  

Yesterday, the California Department of Public Health removed the requirement that breweries, wineries and distilleries can only open if they provide food, starting on Saturday, March 13. Restaurants also will no longer have to require patrons to purchase food with alcoholic beverages. Bars that do not serve food must remain closed until San Diego County gets in the orange tier.

The County must remain in the red tier and post two consecutive weeks of data in the in the orange tier before moving to the less restrictive level which would ease more restrictions. Currently, the testing positivity percentage is 3.3%, placing the County in the orange tier. The County’s health equity metric, which looks at the testing positivity for areas with the lowest healthy conditions, is 4.5% and is also in the orange tier. These metrics are also expected to decrease when the state announces tier assignments March 16. While two of the three metrics qualify San Diego County for the orange tier, the state assigns counties to the most restrictive tier.  When the state administers 4 million doses in the vaccine equity quartile, tier assignments will be revised once again.

In August 2020, California Governor Gavin Newsom introduced a uniform framework process consisting of 4 tiers for reopening the economy. The metrics to determine movement within the tiers will be case rates and test positivity percentage per county. The 4 color-coded tiers are as follows: purple is when county risk level is widespread and most non-essential indoor business operations will be forced to remain closed (more than 7 per 100,000 and more than 8% positive tests); red is when county risk level is substantial and some non-essential indoor business operations will stay closed (between 4-7 new cases per 100k population and between 5-8% positive cases); orange is when risk level is moderate and some business operations are open with modifications (between 1-3.9 new cases per 100k population and between 2-4.9% positive cases); yellow is when a county risk level is minimal and most business operations are open with modifications.

This is a developing story. We will update this post as we learn more.